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Test Preparation and Test-taking

Objective Exams

Adapted from a handout by Jane L. McGrath

This handout covers the following information in regard to taking objective tests. Some of the initial information is repeated on the Essay Test and Online Test handouts as it applies to all test formats. Use these jump links to take you to the sections you want to access:

Assessing Your Test-Taking Skills Photo of a female student taking a test
Preparing for an Objective Test 

Cramming: A Note of Caution

Taking an Objective Exam
Reviewing the Objective Exam
Related Learning Links
Assessing Your Test-Taking Skills

Before launching into how to prepare for and take essay tests, it is helpful to get an idea of your test-taking skills. Here are some web sites that help provide this insight.

Self-Monitoring Exam Check List Evaluate your exam preparation and performance (Muskingum College)


Preparing for an Objective Exam

Photo of a male student taking a test


Confidence in most endeavors comes from effective preparation. There is much you can do to ensure that your test performance is the best it can be. Follow these steps to successful objective test preparation and see your grades rise.

  • Review chapter/study guide introductions and summaries. The theme and main ideas provide a necessary framework for the details you are required to know.
  • Review text notes and study guide exercises.
  • Locate information for questions missed, marking it with a different color of ink.
  • Turn headings/main points into questions.
  • Recite information out loud. If you can’t say it, the information is not yet stored in memory, so go back and review it, then try again.
  • Make charts, diagrams or graphic organizers to enhance memory of key points.
  • Define all terms and any general vocabulary of the subject.
  • Know the key people, why they are significant, and their contributions to the field of study.
  • Work problems by actually doing them—don’t just look over samples.
  • Know important proofs, diagrams, formulas, cycles, etc.
  • Review specific information with a study card system:

    • Write a question on the front of a 3 x 5 card.

    • Write the answer on the back of the card.

    • Read the questions and try to answer them without looking at the back.

    • Carry cards with you and review often, such as when you are waiting for an appointment, standing in line, stuck in traffic, on hold on the phone.

    • Shuffle the cards often to change their order.

    • Cut off one corner of the cards that contain information learned. The ones with uncut corners signal that you need to review these more frequently.

    • Separating cards into three separate piles is also effective as you can then study accordingly:
      1. information you have learned
      2. information that know fairly well but are not sure of
      3. information you have not learned

Photo of a female student studying. There is a pile of books besider her as she writes down notes.Web Sites about How to Prepare Before Taking an Objective Test

The 5-Day Study Plan You will perform better on an exam if you spend one hour studying each day for 20 days than if you spend 10 hours studying for two days before an exam. (University of North Dakota)

Anticipating Test Content What's going to be on the test? (Study Guides and Strategies)

How to Prepare for a Test Mental and practical preparations to test taking and higher grades (Test Preparation and Online Education)

How to Study: Objective Test Sites Here is an excellent site with lots of handouts on testing. Choose ones that think will help you the most. (

Studying for Exams Here are 5 sound strategies plus ideas for practice exams. (University of Illinois at Chicago)

The Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation Strategy This site has a bit of everything in terms of test preparation (Test Preparation and Online Education)

How to Get Better Test Grades Often students ask for advice when they get a lower grade on a test than they hoped for. One professor provides his tips in this blog. (Test Preparation and Online Education)

Pass Exams by Determining Your Learning Style How you learn affects what you learn. Use study strategies that work for you. ( (Test Preparation and Online Education)

Test Preparation Just about everything you need to know about preparing for exams (Muskingum College)

Test-taking Strategies This comprehensive site presents a step-by-step plan for successful test-taking (Muskingum College)

Studying for Finals (or any test) Words from a prof on youtube (youtube)


Cramming: A Note of Caution

Photo of a female student looking over the top of a high stack of books. The intent is to show how much she needs to cram into her memory.


Before taking a test, most of us feel nervous and worry about remembering all the information we studied predominates our thinking. So cramming may seem the best way to relieve ourselves of this stress. However, the opposite is true and it's important to know why. Below are some web sites with information about the dangers of all-night cramming.

Cramming Be sure to click on the site links to "Emergency Test Preparation" and "10 Tips on Terrific Test-taking." (Study Guides and Strategies)

Anatomy of an All-Nighter Read what really happens mentally and physically when you pull an all-nighter (University of Texas at Austin)


Taking an Objective Exam

Photo of a male student taking a test


With all of the preparation behind you, here are some test-taking tips that will help you succeed once you are in the classroom.


  • Read all directions. Don't assume that you know what to do.
  • Budget your time. Don't end up rushing at the end of the test session.
  • Ask for help about points that are not clear.
  • First answer the questions that you know. Afterward, go back and spend time on the ones you are not sure of. You will feel more confident, you may find answers to other test questions, and you will complete more of the test questions.
  • Watch for absolute or categorical statements in true-false questions. They are usually false.
  • Choose the answer that requires the least amount of assumptions. If you say to yourself, "If this were true then....," it probably is not the correct answer.
  • Remember that generalizations are usually only partially true.
  • Read the "stem" of multiple choice questions and try to answer them for yourself before you look at the choices. Then pick the answer closest to yours.
  • Read all the possible answers in multiple choice questions even if you think the first or second choice is correct.
  • Eliminate alternatives in multiple choice and matching questions so you narrow your choice and increase the probability of a correct answer.
  • Guess at an answer (unless there is a guess penalty) rather than leave a blank—you might be right! If you have time, go back at the end and give it further thought. Use scratch paper to mark the numbers of the questions you were not sure of so you know exactly which ones to review.
  • Change an answer only if you can think of a concrete reason that makes your first answer wrong. When you "guess," your first answer is usually the best.

Photo of a male and female student taking a test

Web Sites about How to Take an Objective Test

Instructions on a Test Can Trip You Up Make sure you read directions carefully as it only takes one work to send you in the wrong direction (Test Preparation and Online Education)

Taking Objective Tests Short and to the point! (University of North Dakota)

General Test Strategies Brief introduction to what to do before the test and when you enter the testing room (University of North Dakota)

Taking Objective Tests Useful, practical tips! (Brazosport College)

Objective Test-Taking Great information with examples of how to do it! (California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo)

Tips for Taking Objective Tests (University of Texas at Austin) PDF file

Eliminating Wrong Answers This short youtube video shows how to narrow down your answers to help find the one that is correct. (youtube)

Working Backwards This second video uses very easy examples to show you another strategy to narrow down your options in a multiple choice math test. (youtube)

Strategies to Use with Difficult Exam Questions Here's good advice about what to do when you get stuck. (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

Sample Objective Questions True/False Tests More tips! (Study Guides and Strategies)

Common Exam Errors Study to counteract these common mistakes (University of North Dakota)


After the Exam Review

Taking time to review a returned test will prove extremely valuable. You will discover not only what went well for you but also have the opportunity to learn both missed content and better test-taking skills.

Analyzing Past Tests Determine your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker from your past tests. (Bucks County Community College)

A Dozen Reasons to Review a Returned Test (Middle Tennessee State University)

Related ASC Links

Test Preparation and Test-Taking: Essay Exams

Test Preparation and Test-Taking: Online Exams

Overcoming Test Anxiety


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Information adapted and used with permission by the author. © Jane L. McGrath

This site was created and is maintained by Barbara J. Speidel, SWC Academic Success Center Coordinator. @ Barbara J. Speidel

The ASC logo was created by Andrew C. Rempt. @ Andrew C. Rempt
Southwestern College